The University of Missouri has hired University of Connecticut Provost Mun Choi as its new president. While he will probably be serviceable in this position, the decision is a puzzling one on Mizzou’s part.
For Mizzou – a university recently mired in racial controversy and subsequent inaction by its former president, Tim Wolfe – to hire Choi – one of the most prominent administrators at a university that’s seen its fair share of racial strife and has been duly criticized for meek institutional responses – is mystifying.
Choi has a long resume, graduating from Princeton and acting as Dean of the School of Engineering at UConn from 2008 until he was hired as Provost in 2012, among many other accomplishments. His hiring by Mizzou definitely raises UConn’s national profile in certain respects as well. With that said, Choi does not have the temperament to run a student-centric, Power 5 University.
In essence, like other upper-level administrators, Choi is a glorified fundraiser, as seen by his speaking on the behalf of the UConn Foundation. He is emblematic of the tendency to run universities and colleges as if they are billion dollar “enterprises,” in his own words, rather than centers of higher education. This way of thinking is right in line with (UConn President) Herbstian leadership. Choi was paid handsomely while at UConn, hauling in more than $470,000 in 2015. His new job will pay him a yearly salary of $530,000, as well as “nearly $80,000 annually in deferred compensation and housing allowances,” according to the Associated Press.
While some may not consider business acumen to be a mark against Choi, consider that former Mizzou President Tim Wolfe was hired as a successful businessman and failed in his role miserably.
Perhaps Mizzou did not properly vet Choi. They apparently missed when State Sen. Mae Flexer of the 29th district (encompassing the Storrs-Mansfield area) took Choi to task for how he responded to a student at a “roundtable discussion about sexual assault hosted by Sen. Richard Blumenthal at UConn,” according to a Daily Campus report from 2014.
The student, Megan Grant, a seventh-semester women’s, gender and sexuality studies and sociology double major at the time, asked Choi about potential retaliation against faculty for expressing public support for victims. Choi chided Grant, saying that the “foggy circumstances” she referenced regarding three WGSS professors whom UConn may or may not have tried to force out of their jobs for criticizing the university’s response to sexual assault allegations, was a “very dangerous…not helpful” term to use.
“You are certain that that’s retaliation?...There is no retaliation against faculty members based on their views and their action,” Choi said at the time.
“I think the university is taking the issue seriously, but we have to take the voices of students seriously,” Flexer said in response to Choi’s comments at the time. “She was shut down,” Flexer said, adding that Choi’s remarks were “not productive.”
This is merely a warning to Mizzou students. Perhaps Choi will take the mistakes of Wolfe and Herbst to heart and make more of an attempt to understand student concerns. If his track record is any evidence, though, his tenure will likely be more of the same.